World News

Russian Jehovah's Witness adherent was tortured in custody, says lawyer

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian law enforcement officers in Siberia detained an adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses late one evening this week and drove him to a secluded area where they beat him violently and threatened him, his lawyer said on Friday.

Russia labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization in 2017 and ordered it to disband. Since then a crackdown has seen dozens of adherents detained and hundreds hit with criminal charges.

Law enforcement officers in the city of Chita, six time zones east of Moscow, put a bag over Vadim Kutsenko’s head, drove him to a wooded area where they beat his head and legs, put him in a chokehold and used a taser on him, lawyer Artur Ganin said.

The National Guard and police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The alleged incident occurred on Monday after police searched nearly 40 homes of Jehavoh’s Witnesses including that of Kutsenko whom they detained and then released after questioning him.

The officers, who were dressed in plain clothes, detained Kutsenko again later at his mother-in-law’s house. They threatened him and told him to confess and to disclose information about other Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ganin told Reuters.

After he refused to confess or divulge information, Kutsenko was taken to an investigator’s office where the officers who detained him identified themselves as members of the Russian National Guard, Ganin said.

Kutsenko, who is being held in police custody pending a court hearing, is suspected of helping to organize the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Chita.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth; additional reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Gareth Jones